The AIDS scourge continues to spread

Bad news: HIV-positive women now outnumber men in Africa

infection explodes in Russia.

November 29, 1999

THE LATEST United Nations report on AIDS contains some truly horrifying news. In Africa, HIV-positive women for the first time outnumber infected men. This means more and more infants will be born with the incurable virus.

The implications will be devastating for South Africa and Zimbabwe, in particular. Life expectancy in southern Africa could soon drop to 45. The result will be labor shortages -- and a crippling burden on society to take care of millions of sick people.

The bad news is not limited to sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's HIV-positive people:

HIV is spreading explosively in the former Soviet Union, due to intravenous drug use and primitive health conditions.

The fastest increases in infection rates are being registered in India and China. As a result, Asia will soon surpass Africa as the most devastated region.

Even the good news is mixed. Life-prolonging therapies have proven effective in North America and Europe. But they are expensive -- and have contributed to the erosion of safer sexual behavior.

The experience in North America and Thailand shows that the spread of HIV can be arrested through education and availability of prophylactics. These campaigns must start with recognition of the reality, however painful. This can cause cultural clashes in societies which cling to gender stereotypes or do not acknowledge homosexuality and therefore dismiss the conclusions of scientific research on AIDS.

Myths can be destructive and are difficult to erase. In Africa, HIV infection is spreading rapidly among pubescent girls because older men believe their disease can be cured through sex with a virgin. African girls ages 15 to 19 are now five to six times more likely to have the virus than boys of their age.

Despite a few exceptions, such as Senegal and Uganda, political leaders in sub-Saharan Africa have chosen to disregard the seriousness of the AIDS curse. When an international AIDS conference was held in Zambia two months ago, not a single African head of state turned up -- not even the host country's president.

Only education and strong political commitment make it possible to combat HIV. This will be a growing challenge to Third World leaders.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.